It seems odd that in the midst of America's violent culture people are celebrating peace, but that's exactly what will be happening October 23. Allan Buchman, the founding artistic director of the non-profit organization, Culture Project has announced the group's latest event, the UN Day Concert: A Tribute to Peacekeeping, which will take place on Friday in the UN General Assembly on the eve of UN Day.
The live music performances and documentary film clips, including appearances from CNN's Isha Sesay, Roberta Flack, Lang Lang, Harry Belafonte, Angelique Kidjo, former child soldier Emmanuel Jal, Sister Fa, and Aterciopelados, will commemorate the anniversary of the United Nations Charter and shine light on one of the organization's most noted initiatives: peacekeeping.
The night will also debut a series of five short segments from the brand new documentary film, The War Against War from Independent Spirit Award and Sundance Award winning director, Fisher Stevens. Stevens is best known as a character actor, who played the doomed George Minkowski in ABC's LOST.
The War Against War chronicles the challenges UN Peacekeepers, or "Blue Hats," face every day serving some of the world's most vulnerable populations. While Stevens clearly admires the peacekeeping mission, he acknowledges the Peacekeepers have had mixed results.
Like any large organization, the UN Peacekeepers are not a monolith. During our phone interview, Stevens cited Rwanda as an example of a less successful peacekeeping mission, and Haiti as a model of a more successful venture. In Haiti, Peacekeepers hand out milk and medicine, and so they are no longer seen as suspicious outsiders, since they have become a valued part of the Haitian community. "I think they're learning from their mistakes," says Stevens, "and I'm pointing that out in these films."
Peacekeeping is certainly a dangerous venture as Stevens can attest. The Uruguayan army was tasked with the duty of flying reconnaissance mission in Haiti and protecting the slums from gang and drug activity. The director and his crew spent three hours flying with the Uruguayan army before Stevens left the country. Afterwards, the Uruguayans brought along the Jordanian army as part of their training, but this time the plane crashed, killing every soldier on board. "It's dangerous business...It was very sad," says Stevens. One of the films Stevens will show Friday night is a tribute to the deceased Uruguayan and Jordanian forces.
Certainly, there has been criticism of the UN Peacekeepers, but Culture Project director, Allan Buchman, thinks the pros outweigh the cons:
"It's a post-conflict zone. There are people who are hungry, and all of the conditions that led to war in the first place, are still present. So by having a stabilizing force -- even if they're undermanned and under-equipped -- will cause people to think twice before they pick up their arms again. It's not always successful, but it's always an improvement over them not having been there."
In a world where governments are so eager to go to war, it's refreshing to see a celebration of -- if not peace itself -- then the possibility of peace. When asked why he became involved in activism, Stevens responds, "I just couldn't sit back anymore." That seems to be the spirit of UN Peacekeeping: not sitting still anymore and daring to fight for peace.